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Goodlad's Views To Guide School-Accreditation in South

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The system of school accreditation does little to improve the quality of schools and fails to reflect the findings of educational research, critics of the process have long alleged.

Now, seven schools in the South--in Kentucky, Texas, and Virginia--have agreed to participate in a five-year pilot project that will seek better ways to accredit schools, based on the ideas of John I. Goodlad, one of the nation's most noted researchers on school improvement.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, one of six regional accrediting organizations in the United States, is conducting the study, which will begin in September.

According to John M. Davis, executive director of the association's commission on elementary and middle schools, "Accreditation has been criticized for not moving schools as rapidly to improvement as some of the reformers would like.''

"Our whole approach in this new effort,'' he said, "is to take the research that has been done on how to improve schools and make sure that it's reflected in our process.''

Mr. Davis is coordinating the study with Jim Stiltner, executive director of the association's commission on secondary and junior high schools.

Participating in the project are two elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools, and one school that serves grades 1-12.

'Decentralize Authority'

According to Mr. Davis, Mr. Goodlad's book A Place Called School contained "one of the most comprehensive examinations of elementary and secondary schools that has been done in generations.''

Eventually, the association would like to incorporate Mr. Goodlad's findings into its regular accreditation standards, which this year were applied to some 10,000 schools in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Mr. Davis said current accreditation procedures require schools to meet certain minimum standards; "to examine themselves in terms of their strengths and weaknesses; and to develop a plan for improvement.''

But many decisions about how the improvement plans are implemented remain in the hands of district officials, he said.

In contrast, he noted, "Mr. Goodlad is suggesting that the focus for school improvement must be on the individual school. You need to decentralize authority so that the school has the time and the resources to improve.''

The pilot project will try to shift more responsibility for school improvement to the school site.

In addition, Mr. Davis said, the program will give the schools "much more flexibility'' about how they document gains.

Schools will have to demonstrate improvements in five areas: school climate, school planning, staff development, curriculum and instruction, and communication.

The association has also identified 56 specific ideas that Mr. Goodlad has found lead to school renewal.

For example, Mr. Davis said, each school should establish an advisory group--with the principal serving as chairman and composed of teachers, students, parents, and a district representative--that would set school policies, identify problems, and approve the school's budget and long-range plans.

"We're saying to schools, 'You've got to show us improvements in these areas,'' he said, "but you determine how you're going to do it.''

This summer, Mr. Goodlad, a professor at the University of Washington, will meet with individuals from the participating schools and from the association to work out details for the study.

The Encyclopedia Britannica Education Corporation plans to videotape the sessions and make them available to other education groups.

Sample Criteria

Some of the specific criteria for school improvement in the five areas covered by the pilot project are:

  • School climate: There must be evidence of active community support for the school. A continuing effort must be made to assess and improve school working conditions and staff morale.
  • School planning: There must be an ongoing task force for school planning. The staff should be involved in school decisionmaking.
  • Staff development: Staff members must be involved in determining the in-service activities for their school. A campus-based program of professional growth and development for all staff members must be in place.
  • Curriculum and instruction: Student-achievement data should be used to plan both for individuals and for the school program. A follow-up program must be in place to gather data from graduates and dropouts to help revise school programs. Programs and activities should be available to serve a wide range of student needs.
  • Communication: A program of public relations must be in place. There must be evidence of effective ongoing communication within the school, between the school and the home, and between the school and the district office.

The schools participating in the pilot study are Stonewall Elementary School, Bryan Station Junior High School, and Tates Creek Senior High School, all in Lexington, Ky.; Valesco Elementary School, Freeport Intermediate School, and Brazoswood High School, all in Freeport, Tex.; and the Norfolk Academy in Norfolk, Va. The seven schools enroll more than 7,000 students.

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